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Sigma SD10

Sigma's digital SLR uses Foveon's latest "X3" sensor technology to boost ISO and reduce image noise.

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 10/26/2003

Executive Overview

With the comfortable heft of a traditional 35mm SLR film camera, the SD10 follows closely in the footsteps of Sigma's ground breaking entry into the prosumer digital SLR marketplace. Featuring a 3.34-effective megapixel Foveon CMOS sensor with full-color pixels, the SD10 and its predecessor are the only cameras in the world to use Foveon's "X3" sensor technology. Capturing and storing images as lossless raw sensor data files, the SD10's included software provides an unusual level of post-exposure image adjustment. Add to this the benefit of full manual exposure control and an interchangeable lens design (with a very affordable line of high-performance lenses), and you have a worthy new contender in the digital SLR marketplace.

The SD10's body is slightly larger than the competing EOS 10D and D100 models from Canon and Nikon respectively, but quite a bit smaller and lighter than the pro-level D-SLRs from those companies. (As embodied by the EOS-1D, EOS-1Ds, and Nikon D1X/D2H.) As with its predecessor which shares nearly the same body design, the SD10 feels pretty rugged overall, but the rather thin body panels on the front of the unit contribute to a slighly "tinny" feel there. While it does have the heft of an SLR design, the SD10 isn't by any means a heavy camera. It features an SA-type, bayonet lens mount, which accommodates a wide range of Sigma lenses. (This is Sigma's own proprietary lens mount, as used on their film SLR models for a number of years now.) Manual focus is activated via a switch on the lens, but the SD10 itself features both Single and Continuous autofocus modes. A TTL optical viewfinder provides an accurate display of the frame area, with a unique view that lets you see a good bit of area outside the actual capture region. (Called "Sports Framing" by Sigma, this is great for keeping an eye on fast-moving action outside the frame, but I felt that it resulted in an uncomfortably small active area.) In my tests, the marked viewfinder region indicated the active frame area with 97% accuracy. A detailed information display inside the viewfinder reports exposure and basic camera settings, and a center AF target is useful for lining up your subject. As with most SLRs, the 1.8-inch LCD monitor doesn't act as a "live" viewfinder, instead serving primarily for image review, and for displaying the camera's setup menu. In image review mode, a detailed information screen not only reports exposure settings, but also includes a histogram for checking your exposure. (Read the "viewfinder" section of this review for my comments on Sigma's unique histogram display.)

Four main exposure modes are available, including Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual. While aperture settings will vary with the lens in use, shutter speeds range from 1/6,000 to 15 seconds, with the ability to extend this range to 30 seconds - twice as long as the SD9's maximum. There's also a bulb setting, which curiously is limited to approx. 15 seconds as it was in the SD9 - although it is now accessible at all ISO settings instead of just ISO 100. Also, gone is the SD9's limitation preventing photos longer than one second at ISO 200 or above- the SD10 now allows 15 seconds at ISO 100 / 200, and 4 seconds at ISO 400 / 800 - which can be extended to allow all possible shutter speeds up to the 30 second maximum at all ISO ratings. For long exposures, the SD10 has a cable release terminal, which lets you remotely trip the shutter via cable release, avoiding any movement of the camera caused by your finger hitting the Shutter button. (The SD10 is also compatible with an optional IR remote release.) By default, the SD10 employs an Eight-Segment Evaluative metering system to determine exposure. It does provide the options of Center (spot) or Center-Weighted metering modes as well, though. In all exposure modes except Manual, you can decrease or increase exposure from -3 to +3 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments - much preferable to the SD9's one-half-step increments (bravo, Sigma!). ISO choices include 100, 200, 400 and 800 equivalent settings plus an option to extend this to ISO 1600 equivalent, but keep in mind that the slow end of the shutter speed range contracts dramatically with ISO settings higher than 200 by default as mentioned above (although switching to Extended mode allows all shutter speeds at all ISO ratings). The final exposure option is white balance, with Auto, Sunlight, Shade, Overcast, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash, and Custom modes. Because the SD10 captures files in the raw sensor format, any further image adjustments can be made with the interface software. (The SD10's software offers a really remarkable level of control, and is overall one of the best pieces of image adjustment software I've seen to date.)

The SD10 doesn't offer a built-in flash, but does have an external flash hot shoe on top of the camera, compatible with Sigma's EF500 DG ST SA-N and the new EF500 DG Super SA-N flash units, as well as conventional "dumb" hot shoe flash units. With the EF500 DG Super SA-N flash unit, the SD10 supports wireless TTL flash metering - SD9 owners can still use this flash, but it will fire as a dumb wireless slave only. Available Drive settings on the SD10 include an Autoexposure Bracketing mode, two self-timer modes, and a Continuous Shooting mode. The bracketing mode captures three exposures, each at different exposure settings (one at the metered value, one underexposed, and one overexposed). The self-timer modes offer two- and 10-second countdowns from the time the Shutter button is fully pressed until the shutter actually opens. Continuous Shooting mode captures a series of images in rapid succession, with the actual frame rate and maximum number of images varying with the resolution setting and available memory card space. (The frame rate runs about 1.9 frames/second for large images, and about 2.4 frames/second for small ones.)

The SD10 saves images to CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards, and is compatible with MicroDrives. All files are recorded as raw sensor data, and three resolutions are available. Note that like its predecessor, the SD10 is only compatible with the FAT16 file system - FAT32-formatted cards are not recognized by the camera. This means that users are limited to the maximum capacity per card inherent in FAT16 - only the first two gigabytes of a card is accessible (an important point to remember, considering that cards as large as 6GB are available on the market now!). For downloading images, the SD10 has both USB 1.1 and IEEE-1394 ports, and comes with both cables. I found the download speeds over FireWire (1.2 - 1.3MB / second) to be much improved relative to the SD9, but was unable to test USB download speeds due to computer problems (which were probably the fault of my overloaded Windows XP box, and not of the SD10). A video cable also comes with the camera, for viewing images on a television set. For power, the SD10 utilizes either two CR-V3 lithium battery packs or four AA-type batteries - gone are the inconvenient (and frankly, rather expensive) pair of CR123A lithium batteries from the SD9's handgrip (a second bravo to Sigma!). An AC adapter is also included for use in the studio, or when the camera is connected to the computer for lengthy downloads.


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